Leave ECHR now, Braverman urges as police move to shut down Brussels conference

The UK lacks the “political will” to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Suella Braverman told a conference in Brussels as Belgian police moved to shut the event down.

In a speech to the National Conservatism conference on Tuesday, the former home secretary attacked the ECHR as incompatible with parliamentary democracy and the court charged with enforcing it as “profoundly undemocratic and politicised”.

The Conservative MP, a long-time opponent of the ECHR, said the UK could leave the convention “at the stroke of a pen” with the Prime Minister sending a letter giving six months’ notice to the Council of Europe.

She said: “I wish the UK would do so now. Not only is it the right and necessary thing to do, it is also the politically expedient thing to do.”

But she said she does not expect this to happen, and poured scorn on Rishi Sunak’s recent suggestions that he would be willing to leave the ECHR if it prevented him from implementing his policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Belgium Conservatism Conference
Belgian police blocked access to the National Conservatism conference in Brussels on Tuesday (Virginia Mayo/AP)

Ms Braverman said: “Regrettably, the UK Government doesn’t have the political will to take on the ECHR and hasn’t laid the groundwork for doing so.

“It’s therefore no surprise that recent noises in this direction from the Prime Minister are being dismissed by the public as inauthentic.

“It must also be said that any attempt by the Government to include a plan for ECHR withdrawal, or a promise to hold a referendum on the question, in a losing Conservative Party election manifesto would likely set the cause back a generation.”

Ms Braverman made her speech after police officers had arrived at the conference venue to enforce an order from the mayor of Saint-Josse, a district of Brussels, requiring the event to close “to guarantee public safety”.

The conference had already struggled to find a venue, with two event spaces cancelling the National Conservatives’ booking in the face of public pressure – leading organisers to accuse Brussels mayor Philippe Close of seeking to “cancel” the event.

According to a report on social media, police arrived while Nigel Farage, the honorary president of Reform UK, was addressing the event, giving attendees 15 minutes to leave the venue.

However, the event continued, with organiser Yoram Hazony telling attendees the police had decided to close the event down “gradually”.

He said: “The way that’s going to work is you can all stay here for as long as you want, for the time being, but if you walk out of the building they are not going to let you back in.”

Conference organisers said they would launch a legal challenge to Mr Kir’s order, while Mr Hazony suggested the second day of the event could be held at a different venue.

In a video on social media, Mr Farage said the Brussels authorities were behaving “like the old Soviet Union”.

He said: “At the meeting, over the next two days, you’ve got the prime minister of Hungary, you’ve got a bishop, you’ve got members of the European royal families coming, well-known international businessmen and women, politicians, leaders of parties that will win European elections in countries this year in June.

“And yet, because they are questioning ever-closer union, because they are questioning globalism, they are literally being shut down.”

Belgium Conservatism Conference
Nigel Farage likened the actions of the Brussels authorities to ‘the old Soviet Union’ (Virginia Mayo/AP)

Following her speech, Ms Braverman said: “It’s laughable that Brussels thought police were sent out to shut down a conference of democratically elected politicians representing the views of millions of people.

“They clearly didn’t want to hear about how we can secure our borders and protect our citizens.

“The more ridiculous their attempts to shut us down, the more cheered I am that we’re winning the arguments.”

The conference also heard from Conservative MP Miriam Cates later on Tuesday, and is expected to host a speech by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday.

Mr Sunak had faced pressure to block Ms Braverman’s attendance at the conference, with shadow minister Jonathan Ashworth urging the Prime Minister to stop the former home secretary “giving oxygen to these divisive and dangerous individuals”.

Under Boris Johnson’s government in 2020, Conservative backbencher Daniel Kawczynski was reprimanded for attending a National Conservatism conference in Rome, with a Tory spokesman condemning the views of some other speakers, including Mr Orban.

Both Ms Braverman and Ms Cates addressed the National Conservatism conference in London last year, which was disrupted by protesters.